House Speaker Robert DeLeo. Photo: Alyssa Haywoode for Strategies for Children


In my nearly 30 years in and around state government, and currently as the Executive Director of the Massachusetts Business Roundtable, I’ve learned that three elements are necessary to move a policy agenda: unassailable data and research; a robust grassroots field operation; and a champion… someone who makes the issue their top priority. For years – since I worked for the Early Education for All Campaign and long before – Strategies for Children has produced great data and organized and energized the field. And for years, Speaker Bob DeLeo has been the champion.

As the Speaker ends an extraordinary career in public service, I’ve been reflecting on his determined and effective leadership in early education and care. It’s an issue that is a perennial priority for the Roundtable and one that has afforded me the opportunity to work closely with DeLeo. Early on, he understood the connection between high quality early education and economic growth. In a seminal speech before the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce in March of 2015, the Speaker noted the innate connection between economic growth and education, calling early childhood “game changing” and urging the business community to take a leadership role in advancing public policy in this area.

Typical of the Speaker’s leadership, he then convened a group of business leaders to follow-up on the charge given in the Chamber speech to “be bold in our ambition yet fiscally prudent, creating long-term plans to achieve our goals, and to make Massachusetts a place where opportunity abounds.” I was privileged to be part of that group, witnessing first-hand the passion he brought to this issue, the reliance on data and research that drove him, the anecdotes from the field that profoundly moved him, as well as his commitment to making meaningful change. As he said to the group, “When taken at face value, early education and care may not seem like a business or labor issue. But make no mistake, it is.”

That initial meeting, and subsequent prodding, led to the creation of the Speaker’s Early Education and Care Business Advisory Group. He urged us to focus on the early education and care workforce, which he knew was the backbone of the childcare system and the single most important determinant of quality in the classroom. He asked for recommendations on how the state could “support those who make it their business to educate and care for our youngest and most vulnerable residents.” The Advisory Group accepted the charge and subsequently released a groundbreaking report, identifying high-quality Early Education and Care as a “business imperative” and declaring a “crisis” in the early education system that must be stabilized and strengthened.

With the data and research compiled, the early education and care field mobilized, and Speaker DeLeo as the champion, investments in the early education and care system began to multiply: tens of millions of dollars in funding to stabilize providers, focus on building a professional workforce development system, and a long-term commitment to high-quality programming. Even in the face of Covid-19, the Speaker maintained his steadfast support, which resulted in tens of millions of additional dollars to save an industry ravaged by the pandemic. Just before leaving office, he established an Early Education and Care Economic Review Commission to ensure bold investments can continue, especially for programs serving the most vulnerable children and families. And a coalition of business leaders is forming to continue the Speaker’s vision of an active business voice supporting early education and care. The impact of his leadership will last for generations to come.

Speaker DeLeo’s tenure has been marked by legislative achievements too numerous to name here. But for this one – early childhood education – I had a front row seat. What I saw was leadership that was inspiring, meticulous, passionate, collaborative, and, perhaps most importantly, impactful… cementing the Speaker’s legacy as a true champion for young children and their families.


JD Chesloff is the Executive Director of the Massachusetts Business Roundtable, @MABizRoundtable on Twitter. Chesloff formerly worked as the Legislative/Issues Director at Strategies for Children.